How the Recession Changed Baby Boomers’ Viewpoint of Happiness

During the 2008 Great Recession, our family civil engineering business took a nosedive. We went from 12 employees to two. The two remaining – my husband and my brother – both worked part-time.

recessionThis was a huge adjustment to our finances and future retirement plans. The previous boom years provided the most income we’ve ever earned. In fact, our income was cut in half.

Instead of moping about it, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the extra time and became full-time ministers, learned sign language, joined a sign language congregation, and started doing volunteer work with the deaf community.

You know what? We were never happier.

That’s why I found an article, Post-recession Americans Don’t Need Money to Find Happiness, written by Courtney E Martin for the New York Post, last week so fascinating. In the article, Martin pointed out that “the American Dream is being remade in the wake of the Great Recession.”

“Just as necessity is the mother of invention, a recession can be the father of consciousness,” she wrote. “More and more of us are becoming conscious of the ways in which money, and all of the stuff it can buy, doesn’t reliably lead to happiness.”

recession-2Although Martin argues this isn’t a hippie movement, you baby boomers may relate to this concept.

Does it remind you a little bit of the 60s, when many thought society had been corrupted by capitalism and the materialist culture it created? Although a more radical time, during that tumultuous decade it dawned on many young people that while pursuing “success,” people lost sight of the more meaningful experiences life had to offer.

Seems some of those attitudes are with us again after the recession, causing profound changes in the way people work, think, and live.

How so?

Changes in the Workplace

A recent article from Inc. “10 Ways Your Office Will Change in 2016,” pointed out that the top search term in 2015 at was “part-time.”

“A growing number of white-collar workers are opting not to return to staff positions in the post-recession economy, working instead as contractors in roles that offer more flexibility but less security and benefits,” Beth Braverman wrote in the article.

And in many cases, less money, I would add.

recession-4In fact, a third of American workers free-lanced last year, with 60 percent of freelancers doing so by choice, according to a study by Upwork.

Once again, I am one of those people. A freelance writer who, in fact, does much of my work through Upwork, I’m apparently part of a growing crowd. In fact, it’s estimated that half of the US workforce will be freelancing by 2020.

I’m not getting rich, but I like the flexibility and the extra time it gives me to concentrate on spiritual matters, volunteer work, the important people in my life, and my health and well-being. Turns out, I’m not alone.

The recession taught many that there is more to life than climbing the ladder, working around the clock, and accumulating things that collect in garages and storage units.

I hope that as the economy recovers we don’t lose that insight.

Changes at Home

recession-3Many bought extravagant homes they could not otherwise afford and lost them during the housing bubble burst.

You know what? Those people learned that life went on. Buying that home they always “dreamed of” turned into a nightmare and many discovered it wasn’t worth all the stress that resulted.

Turns out that owning a fancy home wasn’t the answer to finding contentment, satisfaction, and joy after all.

In fact, home ownership rates are at their lowest since 1995. in the years since the housing bubble burst, many have come to the conclusion that home ownership isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be and are now renting a less expensive apartment instead.

Others opted for home ownership, but decided to downsize. This idea spawned the whole tiny house movement.

These days, more and more people are choosing experiences, adventures, and seeing the world over a big house with a huge mortgage.

recession-4Another popular alternative? Over 50 million Americans are living in multi-generational households and sharing expenses.

Our family fits into that category. For the past year, my husband and I have shared our home with our youngest son and his wife as well as our divorced oldest son and his three children.

Last spring, my youngest son and daughter-in-law moved up north. However, after an extended custody battle that left our oldest son financially devastated,  we still live with him and his three children.

Yes, it was an adjustment after being empty nesters for a couple of years. But you know what? In the end, we liked the arrangement.

After losing my mother as well as my mother-in-law last year, it was nice to have a safe, secure, and loving cocoon of family around us. The grandchildren cheered us up and kept us young.

Three houses down and across the street, my sister and her family live in a main house and my brother and my other sister live in two casitas on the same property. Yup, we got a regular family compound going and you know what? It’s working for us.

We’re not alone.

This multi-generational trend has even reached the White House, with Michelle Obama’s mother living with the President and his wife and often spotted shuttling grandchildren to school. The fact is, studies show that people who live in multi-generational homes actually like it.

Finding Balance

Of course, poverty doesn’t bring happiness either. After analyzing Gallup poll data, the Brookings Institute found that Americans who reported the lowest levels of well-being also made less than $2,000 a month, which coincides closely with the the federal poverty guideline level for a family of four.

However, wealth does not necessarily bring happiness either. An often-cited Princeton study from 2010 found that a salary of $75,000 per year was the level at which security and happiness reached a pinnacle, but that increases beyond that didn’t result in greater happiness.

Experts say being rich brings its own kind of suffering. Wealth can lead to sleepless nights of worrying as well as an unhappy family life and relationship problems. It can lead to comparing yourself to others, jealousy, or, in the language of the tenth commandment, coveting. The love of money can inspire greed and an insatiable appetite for more wealth which results in frustration and a lack of contentment.

Maybe that’s what some of us learned during the recession. Indeed, the old adage that money does not bring happiness turns out to be true.

Now that the economy is beginning to recover, let’s all resolve to remember that fact and I think we’ll all be a lot happier.

Do you agree? Has your attitude about life changed since the recession? Let me know in the comments below.

Images in order of appearancce, courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, scottchan, jk1991,    jscreationzs, and Ambro at


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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15 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story Julie! My life changed a LOT when I finally walked away from my corporate job. It may have been intentional rather than recession-related, but I can relate to your experience because the outcome was very similar.

    Aside from the dramatic drop in earnings, I left behind my juicy expense account and a company car. I had to budget for the first time in many years, and I learned the joys of using public transportation. And you know what, I couldn’t remember ever being happier! Fast forward 3 years and while the income has definitely increased, I’ve worked to keep things balanced and make sure there’s plenty of quality “me” time.

    • juliegorges says:

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience that demonstrates so well the changes many made post-recession with the same results. As the economy recovers, I think we all need to remember what we learned and strive for the balance you mentioned.

  2. Kat Sturtz says:

    Yes, a truly inspiring story and additional relevant information and advice. I can relate to it personally and professionally in multiple ways. The specifics of our situations are vastly different but my husband and I are happier now than ever before even though, like you, our total income took a nose-dive following nearly a decade of major medical issues for him.

    • juliegorges says:

      Sorry to hear about your husband’s medical issues, that can truly devastate a person financially, but so glad to hear you are happier than ever before. A true testament to what the blog was about – thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience.

  3. Reba Linker says:

    I love your story and admire the way you flowed with the current and found even greater happiness and fulfillment out of the is so-called downturn. You have the things that are of the greatest value, ‘things’ that no amount of money could buy.

  4. I completely resonate with your experience, Julie, having survived enough recessions and related redundancies to know that money never buys happiness and the importance of money management and planning.

    The last recession and related redundancy when my employer closed down our department was more painful because I had a mortgage on my home and as a senior professional, knew I had to manage it until I could get a new job. Being at the top of the pyramid has its own problems. 🙂

    The generous exit package helped me payoff the remaining loan. By chance I had restructured the loan a year earlier with the bank and bitten the prepayment penalty bullet to reduce the loan so I survived.

    Having said that, not many plan for future issues with the economy and I know of sadder harder stories.

    • juliegorges says:

      I hear you, Vatsala. I too am old enough to remember and have had survived several recessions. It really pays to stay out of debt and be smart with your money so when the tough times hit (as they will again) you can survive the downturns. You are a good example of that. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

  5. Joyce Hansen says:

    When you’re climbing up the latter to the American dream only to have it pulled out from under you is a shock. But , what many people don’t get is that life goes on, you learn to adapt, and new opportunities present themselves. If my husband and I and stayed where we were, we would be drowning in debt trying to keep up. We had an opportunity and took it and never looked back. Definitely, the right move at the right time, which was spurred on by the financial catastrophe.

    • juliegorges says:

      Thanks so much for sharing how a financial catastrophe can actually have life lessons that improve our lives. Glad you took advantage of an opportunity to make the right move for your family. Appreciate you stopping by to share your valuable insights, Joyce.

  6. Suzie Cheel says:

    Love your story and just yesterday we were talking about the abundance we have in our lives, that is not a result of money it is how we feel. Down under there has not been a recession but we got caught in a financial downturn a few years back lost the lot and have maintained happiness. i also see many unhappy people who have money although with the quote attributed to Mae West “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is better.” that to me is richness in all that I do be and have . Lovely to have you back blogging xx

    • juliegorges says:

      Thanks Suzie. Back at you! Thanks for sharing your story from down under. I agree, true richness and abundance is not the result of money or material things but our spiritual and emotional well-being. So glad you stopped by and shared your thoughts.

  7. Summer says:

    Very insightful article. Thank you for sharing. I think times like that certainly make people change and they have to take a good hard look at themselves and what their priorities are and what is not as important as they once thought. I also hope people can remember how they feel when they are doing something they love instead of doing something they hate in order to keep up with the Smiths down the street.

    • juliegorges says:

      Thanks Summer for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. And I couldn’t agree more. Debt and trying to impress others limits our choices and can easily tie us down to a job we hate instead of doing something we love. Who wants that?

  1. January 19, 2017

    […] I wrote about in a previous blog, How the Recession Changed Our Viewpoint of Happiness, if this recession taught us anything, it’s that money, expensive houses, and things don’t bring […]

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